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Second legal challenge filed against Maryland congressional map

A second legal challenge has been lodged against the new map for Maryland’s eight congressional districts.

The advocacy group Fair Maps Maryland, which is aligned with Gov. Larry Hogan, filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing the map is “filled with grotesque examples of extreme partisan gerrymandering” and violates the Maryland Constitution.

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It’s the second lawsuit against the maps in as many days, following one filed Wednesday by a dozen Republicans and the conservative group Judicial Watch.

“The Maryland General Assembly created these illegal maps in dark backrooms and now they will be forced to defend them in a court of law,” said Doug Mayer, a Hogan adviser and spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland.

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Both lawsuits rely on the Maryland Constitution, which sets requirements for district boundaries for the General Assembly to be compact and respect existing county and natural borders, but does not mention congressional boundaries specifically.

The Fair Maps Maryland lawsuit, which has nine Republican voters including two state delegates as plaintiffs, adds a claim that the map violates the state constitution’s requirement for “free and frequent” elections because the map was designed to benefit Democratic candidates and will “predetermine election outcomes in Maryland’s congressional districts.”

The congressional map approved by the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday. SOURCE: Maryland General Assembly Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission | Baltimore Sun graphic

The lawsuit also claims that the map violates a provision in the constitution that requires the General Assembly to pass laws “necessary for the preservation of the purity of Elections.” Instead of preventing corruption in elections, the lawsuit claims that the map “makes political corruption the law of the State.”

Republican voters also are discriminated against and their right to free speech is limited, which are further violations of the state constitution, the lawsuit claims.

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State lawmakers were required to approve new district boundaries to account for population changes recorded in the 2020 Census.

The map they approved earlier this month was based off the map drawn 10 years ago, which has been criticized as among the most gerrymandered in the nation, with twisting districts snaking across the state. Lawmakers held multiple public hearings before they drew the map, and one public hearing after it was proposed.

Democratic lawmakers noted the old map largely survived legal challenges, so the new map — which they called an improvement — should, as well. In a 2019 ruling on a case challenging that map, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts were not the proper venue for disputes involving partisan gerrymandering.

Democratic lawmakers have said the new map keeps many voters in their same district but with cleaner boundaries. They also argued that many of the districts are more politically competitive than before.

Of Maryland’s eight members of the House of Representatives, seven are Democrats, and political analysts say that’s likely to continue under the newly-approved map.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, have not responded to interview requests about the legal challenges.

Hogan, meanwhile, appointed his own multiparty Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, which drew a proposed congressional map that more neatly divides the districts and has fewer district boundaries crossing county lines. The Hogan-backed map did not gain traction in the General Assembly, which has a 2-to-1 Democratic majority.

Hogan and many Republicans have insisted that the new map falls short of legal standards. Hogan, who has long been vocally opposed gerrymandering, has said he hopes legal challenges to the map will succeed.

“The courts will be the final arbiter, not partisan legislators. These maps cannot and will not stand,” Hogan said earlier this month.

And the governor published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and file a lawsuit over the map. Hogan noted that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sued Texas, alleging that state’s new congressional map discriminates against minority voters. Hogan wrote that Maryland’s map is “even worse” and Garland should sue this state, too.

The Fair Maps Maryland lawsuit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, asks a judge to declare the congressional map invalid and to postpone candidate filing deadlines until a new map can be adopted.

The lawsuit filed earlier in the week by a dozen Republicans and Judicial Watch asks the same court to substitute the Hogan commission’s map until a new map is approved.

It’s possible that both lawsuits will end up at the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Five of the court’s seven judges were appointed by Hogan, including Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, who previously served as the governor’s top lobbyist and legislative adviser.

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